Traveling alone

A couple of weekends ago my writing prompt was this photo, which made me think instantly of Patty Larkin’s wonderful song, “Traveling Alone,” and that brought up an old memory. The scenery isn’t quite right for the memory, but the time of year is the same.

Photo of overcast freewayTraveling alone is a wonderful thing
Traveling alone is a wonderful thing
–Patty Larkin

My family used to drive up to the snow in the winters, to go skiing at Boreal. I never liked skiing and preferred to sit in the lodge drinking Odwalla Mango Tango (it’s what they had, and I never was big on hot cocoa), reading books, and watching the beautiful 20-something snowboarder boys with all the longing of my 14-year-old heart.

But it was the drives north that I really loved. We’d stay the night at my grandpa‘s house in Sacramento, and then leave first thing in the morning, round five or so, my sisters and me drowsing in the back seats of the minivan. At Auburn my parents would stop at McDonald’s and we’d be nudged from our doze with hot paper-wrapped Egg McMuffins and cold sweating orange juices handed back to us by my mother. I’d eat my sandwich and drink my juice, eyes waking up slowly to the brilliant white light, the tall pines, the mountains, the few other cars making their way along the grey highway.

Shortly after I turned 13 I started to bring my dad’s big noise-canceling headphones and our portable CD player along with us on these trips, so I’d watch our way through the world in my own private space of Alanis Morissette or Hootie and the Blowfish. Around that time I started to dream hard about what I could do when I grew up, meaning when I got to be the grand old age of 23 or so. I’d be so much taller, and thinner, and I’d be confident and beautiful and capable in every way.

I knew that nothing could stop a woman like that from doing whatever she pleased. I could have any job I wanted, do anything, but what I’d do was take a road trip just like this, but solo: just me and my car and my music and the great wide road. I’d go everywhere and see everything, no destination in mind, not stopping till I wanted to. And if I chanced to meet some interesting guy along the way — a fellow lone traveler — we might share a meal and some stories, and later we might pull off together in some town somewhere in the black night, and he might take my hand and — heart beating, that’s as far as I could imagine.

Funny thing is, I still haven’t taken that solo road trip. I’ve done these meandering aimless journeys with Erik several times, and they’ve been as spontaneous and freeing as I imagined in my parents’ backseat. But as I became an adult, the vision of being a lone Asian woman in a nowhere town came to fill me with fear, not joy — and going into hotel rooms with unknown guys? Forget it! I never grew much taller, or thinner, and my belief in my own strength and power ends when I think of defending myself from even the stares of strange men. Where is that do-anything heroine of my adolescent daydreams? I’m still waiting for her, still waiting.

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21 responses to “Traveling alone

  1. I love your description of those drives from your younger self’s point of view. I’m a lover of meandering journeys myself and can’t imagine actually taking one on my own, even if I did learn how to drive.

    Just before my 14th birthday, I decreetly packed a small bag and was going to run away to New York. I’d seen enough Movies of the Week to know that I needed to avoid kind, hypnotic men at the bus station when I got there, but as I dragged my feet and wandered around, but not into, my local bus station, the realization hit that New York City with 107 dollars of saved birthday and Christmas money in my pocket would begin a worse life than the one I was trying to escape. I went home and took my lumps for missing school, and I still wonder where my do-anything heroine went.

    • Oh man, RΓ©, I’m in awe of your 14-year-old self for even dreaming she could manage NYC on her own… and for being smart enough to realize it would “begin a worse life than the one [she] was trying to escape.” What did you end up doing with the $107 — anything as momentous as that trip would have been?

      You know what’s incredible, I totally forgot while writing this post that I have taken a trip on my own, and it was, in fact, to New York City. I think I forgot because it wasn’t a road trip, in the sense that there was no driving (actually I’d never driven on my own, at that point), though I did fly across the country! It was the summer after I graduated from college and I’d been working for my dad’s former boss, making what felt like a huge amount of money. My college dance teacher told me the Martha Graham School in NYC had a summer intensive, and it was perfectly acceptable for me to go for only a week. I registered, found a super-cheap hostel within walking distance of… was it the Natural History museum? and spent a week in NY on my own (though I did meet up with friends while I was there). What’s weird about it is that the trip left so little imprint on my mind, save what I included in that city freewrite a couple of weeks ago. Why don’t I remember it better? Is it because I didn’t take pictures? Or because I only blogged once while there?

      • I just read your post on your N.Y. trip. I think you’re right that it may not have come to mind when you wrote this because it wasn’t a road trip, per se. I dream about visiting N.Y. too, but I wouldn’t want to live there either.

        That oppressive humidity you spoke of is the main reason northern California calls to me. I wouldn’t want to live with the mood swings of a desert, but sometimes I think the humidity here could kill me!

        I’m still a money saver by nature. At 14 I kept that money hidden away and added a dollar or two out of each small allowance. At about 25 I spent most of my savings to record my ‘hit single’, “Boys Do Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses.” πŸ™‚ I never pressed any, for lack of more cash and other reasons, but I learned a lot about being thorough, doing research from multiple angles, and making no money committments until absolutely sure. I can’t even play the master to see how awful it is, because it’s on reel to reel tape. Digital technology certainly levelled the playing field. Almost wish I was 25 now.

        • Humidity is baaaaad for me, even worse than heat! That’s one thing I love for sure about California. Even when I lived in LA, the heat was always dry. Thank goodness.

          I would pay to hear your “Boys Do Make Passes” song. πŸ˜‰ You could re-record it for You
          Tube… πŸ˜‰

          • Lol! You’re sweet… but that would take a band and a few weeks of figuring out, and rehearsal. (I learned that the hard way.) It is on my bucket list, though. I keep hoping there’s a cool boyfriend in the cards for me who plays guitar. πŸ˜‰ I daydream about us making my album together. πŸ™‚

  2. Your belief in your own strength and power comes across in your art. As for being a lone Asian woman in a nowhere town, why not take a trip alone to a bigger city, where any stares from strange men will be outnumbered by all the other wide-ranging sights, people and wonders? Being abroad in a place you are unfamiliar with hones your senses, you can enjoy every fresh decision, and wander at your leisure. Your heroine may emerge, perhaps different to how you imagined!

    • Esther, you’ve helped me recall that I did take a weeklong solo trip (no driving, though, which might be why I forgot about it while writing this post) to New York City when I was 22! And yet this week has a startlingly limited place in my memory. (See my reply to RΓ©’s previous comment.) I can’t imagine why. Maybe I should take another such excursion. I’ll let you know if I go to London… πŸ˜‰

  3. I’ve done both, and frankly prefer traveling with company, especially my husband. There’s nothing like sharing delayed flights and amazing sights with someone you love. I’m reading a book titled “The Pull of the Moon” by Elizabeth Berg, about a 50ish woman who takes off one day (with nary a word to her husband) on a car trip alone. Even though I do understand why she does this — I’ve been tempted myself to “just keep driving” rather than turn toward home — I just keep thinking that it sure doesn’t sound like fun to me at all.

    • True, solo-traveler delayed flights would be so unpleasant! Though I’ve just remembered (see my reply to RΓ©’s comment) that I have in fact taken a solo trip to NYC. I’m scandalized I didn’t think of it right away!

      Is Pull of the Moon good?

      • Lisa, *Pull of the Moon* is well written — and I always appreciate reading good writing. It is not a big book, but I got bogged down about 2/3 of the way through and put it down for a few days. It’s is a story that will resonate with women: growing older, feeling unseen and unheard and under appreciated. The entire road trip is spent recording thoughts and experiences in a journal, and writing letters to her husband……..I am so excited for you! Another trip to Asia on the near horizon! Look forward to hearing details, like where in Asia are going?

        • I’ll look for the book once I’ve worked through more of my existing books-to-read shelves. πŸ˜‰ I’ve been going through those at a very decent rate lately, and I’m hoping that’ll keep up!

          Yes, I’ll send you a postcard! πŸ˜€ We’re going to Taiwan, with a few days in Hong Kong again. I’m going to try to schedule posts in advance so my blog won’t be empty while I’m gone (and I don’t have to reveal to the whole world that we’re out of the country ;b ), but I will have a lot to share when I get back!

          • Oh, lovely! I will look forward to reading your travel adventures when you get back. You will have so much fun traveling with Eric and your sister and BIL! Don’t forget your sketchbook and pencils!

  4. What a beautiful piece. I find it incredibly sad that life teaches us fear and that we lose that sense of immortality, of possibility, of attainable dreams. I traveled to Scotland when I was 18, with a friend, and $500 between us, for six weeks. When neither of us had ever traveled anywhere without parents. All our misadventures and learning experiences, some scary, ended well, ended with lifelong friendships, and adventures. I went back, and back again. Now, if my son wanted to do the same thing? Well, I now understand why my mother burst into tears of relief when I got off that airplane…I wonder how we can resurrect our dreams, follow them, and lose those fears?

    • Thank you so much, Lisa! That Scotland trip sounds brave and daring (and your mother is equally brave for having let you go!). My friend Jason, trying to get me to travel more, told me about the time he went to Rome alone with a friend, with no hotel reservations or anything. I still don’t know if I’d have the nerve to do such a thing.

      I’ve remembered that I did take a solo trip to NYC (see my reply to RΓ©’s comment) but then I planned things out before I went, like hotel and even cash in my pocket for my Metro card. I don’t know if I would have dared to go without these precautions!

  5. I love this post! I’ve actually traveled both solo and with my husband, and both of them can be wonderful, depending on my mood. I have noticed that, regardless of the length of the trip, the return home is always the point when I most wish I had company, for some reason. There’s something mildly depressing to me about leaving a place on my own…

    I just had an idea, and I might try this myself next time I travel with my husband. What if you and Erik went on a trip together but you had a few hours one afternoon to do your own thing and experiment with pseudo-solo travel that way? πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks, Mo! πŸ™‚ Yeah, it’s nice to have a send-off at least, to avoid that bleak “nobody will miss me” feeling. And I always get loneliest at night.

      I’ve remembered that I have taken a solo trip to NYC (see my reply to RΓ©’s comment) — a whole week there right after college. I cannot imagine why this skipped my mind while writing this post, except that it wasn’t a road trip technically since I wasn’t driving. It’s bizarre, I can’t figure out why I don’t have any photos or journals from that trip. I’ve made Erik look through his stash of letters from me, to see if we can find anything. ;b So far, only one postcard!

      I LOVE your idea and will certainly try it! We’re actually going to Asia again in a few weeks, with my sister and her husband. I’m really excited about it, and now I will have to see if I can sneak off for a few hours alone one of those days. πŸ™‚ Thank you for the stroke of genius!

  6. Traveling alone is like moving in slow motion. Everything on the journey is available to extreme scrutiny, and a dreamy reflection. Time floats one through one experience after another: nature presents itself innocently, people are chosen on their particular merits or qualities, according to one’s mood. Objects, interactions, thoughts, all contribute to a wondrous, mystical rambling through the senses.

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